INDIANAPOLIS — Carmelo Anthony sat at his locker, looking upset, frustrated, surprised and almost numb after the Knicks’ most successful season in nearly 20 years ended 10 wins short of their first NBA title since 1973.
They were in position to force a Game 7 after erasing a 12-point third-quarter deficit and going ahead by three early in the fourth quarter. But the Knicks fell apart in the last five minutes, and the Pacers ended their title hopes with a 106-99 victory in Game 6 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series Saturday night at BankersLife Fieldhouse.
The Pacers will face the defending champion Heat in Miami in the Eastern Conference finals beginning Wednesday.
“It’s tough,” said Anthony, who had 39 points. “Everybody wants to win a championship. That’s the ultimate goal. Unfortunately, our run had to stop here.”
For most of the first three quarters, Anthony got little help. He carried the Knicks and played brilliantly in that span, scoring 35 points and shooting 13-for-22, but he had only four points on 2-for-7 shooting and three turnovers in a rough fourth quarter.
After the Knicks took a 92-90 lead with 5:43 left, Anthony had a dunk blocked by Roy Hibbert and committed his three turnovers during a series-deciding 9-0 run by Indiana. “It was a hell of a block,” Anthony said. “Big play by Hibbert. Kind of shifted the momentum at that point.”
Iman Shumpert scored 19 points, 16 of them in the Knicks’ third-quarter comeback, and shot 5-for-6 from three-point range. J.R. Smith added 15 points but shot 4-for-15.
The Knicks believed they were championship contenders, but ultimately they were outplayed by the Pacers. Indiana again won the rebounding battle, 43-36. The Pacers shot 34-for-46 from the free-throw line to the Knicks’ 18-for-18 and 50.7 percent from the field to the Knicks’ 40.0 percent, but the Knicks stayed in the game by shooting 13-for-30 from three-point range, including 6-for-7 in a 34-point third quarter.
Mike Woodson wouldn’t say the Knicks underachieved after a season that featured 54 wins, their first Atlantic Division title in 19 years and their first playoff series victory in 13 years.
“This is the first time this team has ever been assembled,” he said. “We did a lot of special things this season. To walk away from tonight and say this season was a disaster — absolutely not. Our goal was to win an NBA title. At the end of the day, we didn’t get it done. Me being the head coach, I take full responsibility for that.”
Brooklyn’s Lance Stephenson had 25 points, nine in the fourth quarter, and 10 rebounds to lead Indiana. Paul George scored 23. Hibbert had 21 points, 12 rebounds and five blocked shots andDavid West added 17 points. George Hill, who returned after missing Game 5 with a concussion, had 12 points, including four free throws in the final minute.
“You never want a team to be more aggressive than you, but they were the whole series,” Shumpert said.
“I think they were the better team,” Tyson Chandler said after fouling out with two points and six rebounds. “They beat us to the loose balls and to the rebounds and execution on both ends. They beat us.”
The Knicks had momentum in the fourth. They were up 92-90 after Smith’s three-pointer and had a chance to build on that. But Anthony was denied by Hibbert, and that ignited the Pacers and the crowd.
Stephenson scored inside, then converted Anthony’s turnover into a three-point play and later added two free throws. West capped the 9-0 run with a tip-in that made it 99-92 with 2:35 left.
Anthony made his first basket of the quarter on the next possession to bring the Knicks within five, but Stephenson’s layup made it 101-94 with 1:53 to play.
Smith’s three-point play with 1:15 left brought the Knicks within 101-97. After two foul shots by Hill, Anthony’s driving dunk made it a four-point game again. But Hill put the Pacers up 105-99 with two foul shots with 39.5 seconds to go.
The Knicks fell behind 65-53 with 8:34 left in the third quarter. But Anthony responded with a three-pointer, and his teammates then hit four straight three-pointers in a span of 1:42. Shumpert drilled three of them and Smith buried the fourth one to tie the score at 72.
Chris Copeland hit two three-pointers early in the fourth, giving the Knicks an 87-84 lead.
“It’s frustrating when you feel as though somebody comes out more aggressive than you do in the playoffs,” Smith said. “In the playoffs, you got to come out aggressive, be ready to attack. We as a team weren’t. They were. They played more physical. They’re allowed to play more physical. That’s the way they played all year. That’s how they put us away.”